Congress can finish Charter reform before Holy Week  

By Jose Cielito Reganit

January 24, 2024, 5:52 pm Updated on January 24, 2024, 8:43 pm

<p>Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez. <em>(Photo courtesy of Rep. Rodriguez FB Page)</em></p>

Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez. (Photo courtesy of Rep. Rodriguez FB Page)

MANILA – The chairperson of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Wednesday said the House of Representatives and the Senate can finish Charter reform before the Holy Week recess of Congress in March.

“If they (senators) are serious, we should target to conclude this effort, which the House has been advocating since the 8th Congress, before we go on our Holy Week break on March 23,” Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said in a statement.

“Instead of wasting their time on seeing and fearing ghosts and no-el (no elections) scenarios where there are none in the ongoing people’s initiative, senators should work with us on changes in the economic provisions. That may ease the pressure from our people for them to act on Charter reform,” he added.

He said it is important that the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution be tweaked in a manner that would attract foreign investments, which in turn would create more jobs and income opportunities for Filipinos.

“We have to do it as early as possible, lest we miss the boat on enticing foreign investors, if we have not missed it yet. As it is, we are now No. 8 in foreign direct investments in the 10-member ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Alarmingly, we have already been overtaken by Vietnam and Cambodia. We are only ahead of Laos and Myanmar,” he noted.

Rodriguez said his committee has voluminous records on constitutional amendment proposals presented since the 8th Congress.

“We have the records, the institutional memory. We are ready to tackle this matter of constitutional reform with the Senate as soon as possible,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez said senators have only themselves to blame as the people launched a campaign for a direct amendment of the Charter -- which senators feel would erode bicameralism and render them irrelevant on Charter change.

He pointed out that the House, “recognizing the bicameral nature of our legislature,” had sent to the Senate all Charter reform measures it had approved or adopted for the smaller chamber’s own consideration.

“We have always respected bicameralism. But our proposals and insistent appeals for them to consider Charter reform have invariably fallen on deaf ears until two weeks ago, when my beloved Senate President (Juan Miguel Zubiri) from Mindanao announced their change of heart because they are already feeling the heat from our people,” he said.

Rodriguez was referring to the filing of Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 at the Senate last Jan. 15, which was led by Zubiri.

“Senators have put themselves in a problematic situation for which they have only themselves to blame. They have consistently ignored the people’s clamor for Charter reform voiced through their elected district representatives until the people decided to take matters into their own hands,” he said.

This time though, Rodriguez said he is hoping that the Charter reform advocacy of the House would succeed this time “for the sake of our country, our economy and our people.”

Gathered signatures

Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda said advocates of people’s initiative (PI) have already gathered more than enough signatures to push for the Charter change.

Salceda, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said the support of at least 3 percent of voters in each congressional district and a minimum of 12 percent nationwide has already been gathered by PI supporters.

“Well, the Constitution is alive. Kung akala nila ganun kahirap yung paghanap ng 12 percent, may mga distrito, katulad sa distrito ko 20 percent, may ibang distrito 30 percent. Kasi, ang isyu ngayon ano ba ang maganda para sa kinabukasan ng Pilipinas (If they thought it is that hard to find 12% [signatures], there are districts, like mine, with 20 percent, and other districts with 30 percent. Because, the issue now is—what’s good for the future of the Philippines),” he said in a media interview on Wednesday.

He said the petition to allow Congress to vote jointly on any proposed Charter amendment is now being finalized and would soon be filed by PI organizers.

“Well talagang inaayos lang (Well, it is being fixed now). And of course, the request for validation by the Comelec is the necessary next step,” he added.

Reacting to the manifesto issued by the Senate, Salceda said it is the people who should prevail, not the 24 senators.

Salceda said seven senators opposed to PI or constitutional change, should not be allowed to “trump the voice of the 12 percent of the population.”

He said PI now seems to be the only viable option for Charter reform. (with a report from Zaldy De Layola/PNA)